When you get stuck into a daily routine of a corporate life in a big city, you always lack one thing: time. You get up early, commute to work, rush through the crowds, take care of emails on your way in the subway. Then you spend ten hours at the office–because everyone else stays overtime too, and the list of task seems to have no end…. Once you are finally done with the day in the office, you need to take care of shopping, family (if you have any), get back to your apartment, and so on. It is evening already, the day has passed. You wish for the day to have 25 hours, or 30 perhaps, but here we are stuck with 24 hours exactly. On to bed into the wonderful land of dreams, until your alarm clock wakes you up again too early, feeling tired. And the entire circus repeats again….

Many people consider this interview question incredibly difficult. They cannot think of a fitting situation to narrate to the interviewers, while trying to demonstrate their ability to get things done, even with limited time, or resources. What they do not realize is that their entire life is such a situation. Every day of their adult working life, every month and year, is this futile race with time and resources.

Back in the day I also played this game, trying to beat the clock. I wasn’t an employee, but still, I blended into the crowd of rushing bodies in big cities. Pursuing my own dream of an entrepreneur, I worked hard and slept a little, often seven days a week. Luckily the destiny threw me into some nasty places, I very nearly lost my life, and in the moment of extreme psychological pain surrendered to the truth, and realized the vanity of my efforts. Now I do not frequent the streets of big cities anymore, the business hubs of the West. And when I occasionally find myself in one of them, I cannot helps a laugh, since I feel like an outsider in the crowds. Because it’s not my world anymore, and not the pace I wish to live my life on… Enough about me though.

You came here to learn how to answer a tricky interview question, and not to read my reflective blabbering on life. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoyed it a bit, maybe it made you think, and perhaps a day will come when the crowds of rushing people in the streets of big city will feel as foreign to you as they do to me today. Until then, however, you will continue trying to win the rat race, and now I will try to help you on your way with 7 sample answers to the question you may often face while trying to get the job with Amazon, or with one of the other tech and financial giants.

Some of the answers relate to particular situations from the workplace, some are rather philosophical. In any case, I hope at least one of them will resonate with you, and help you come up with your own, unique response to this question. Enjoy!


7 sample answers to “Tell me about a time when you had to work with limited time or resources” interview question

  1. I recall a perfect example from my last corporate job. I led a small team of app developers and designers, and we were trying to come up with one of the first apps to help tackle the covid-19 pandemics. We knew it was a great opportunity, and if the app was a cracker, it could have taken the entire company to new heights. At the same time we knew other competitors worked on similar apps, and we also didn’t know how long the pandemics would actually last. Needless to say, it was a true race with time. As a leader of a team, I tried to do two things. First one was motivating people to try their best, and work overtime, going by example. Every day I was the first one in the office, and the last one to leave it. I also continuously reminded them of the great opportunity we had here, and how life-changing a success can be, for their professional careers. Secondly, I made it a point to use the time in the office as efficiently as possible. We were a small agile team, had short yet efficient meetings every day, making sure people stay on task and we do not get stuck somewhere. It worked, and we came up with a great app, before most of our competitors did so. It eventually didn’t break through, since the pandemics changed, but that’s not the point here… My experience showed me that I can work under pressure, and get things done even with limited time and resources.
  2. We struggled a lot with people in the last startup where I worked. You know how it is on the market today–small companies cannot compete with the big players, since they cannot offer competitive remuneration packages. And we still face lack of IT professional on the market, so people can choose. Hence I had very limited resources while trying to turn an innovative concept into a real SaaS. We lacked money, but we especially lacked people. It was a big struggle, but I tried the best I could, which in this case meant working a lot myself, and squeezing the people in the team to the brink. They were young, often just IT students, simply a kind of people you find in the startups of this type. I managed to motivate them, to make them passionate for the vision of the company, to make them dream big. We worked super hard, did our best, but eventually we didn’t avoid the fate that meets 9 out of every 10 startups. The money ran out, we didn’t get more funding, and the entire company collapsed. Anyway, it was a good lesson, and I hope it will help me down the road in my professional career.
  3. This is my first job application, and I cannot really talk about some situation from work. But I definitely consider my last two years at the college as such a time period. The exams were difficult , we had many seminary projects, thesis, and I had to study as hard as ever. Quickly I learned that I had to make changes to my daily routine, unless I wanted to fail to earn my degree. And I did it. I stopped going out on Saturdays, cut back on some of my hobbies, though I still kept some to stay sane and healthy. I also deleted my accounts on major social networks, because I realized how much time I was wasting on their platforms. These changes allowed me to dedicate more time to my studies and thesis, and I eventually earned my degree. If I failed to do that, I would probably not sit here with you today.
  4. To be honest with you, I feel like that all the time. Life is an exciting adventure, but it is also quite rough. You leave the school with a big debt, you want to buy an apartment hence you get into even a bigger debt. Then you start a family–because you believe it will bring happiness to your life. And perhaps it really does, but it is also a lot of responsibility. And suddenly the day seems too short, you always lack time and resources, you run everywhere, and drop to bed deadly tired every night, for the entire process to repeat again the next day. Sunday is your only savior, but you typically spend it in bed, since you feel extremely spent from the remaining six days… The fact that I stand in front of you today, after living in this vicious cycle for more than eight years, proves that I can handle my life, even though I always seem to lack time and resources. And I have no doubt I will handle similar situations in my new job, though I secretly hope the better salary here will allow me to pay my debts quickly, and finally allow me to relax a bit in my life.
  5. Well, up to this point I had three part time jobs. That’s the life of a foreigner in this country, following their American dream. You sleep in some shabby place and work your ass off for a meager pay. Nights? Weekends? Holidays? You seem to work all the time, and at the end it is never enough, because we have this crazy inflation and everything is just more expensive every month. But I decided enough is enough, and hope to replace all these part-time jobs with the single one that I try to get with you. With the salary offer here, and the working hours, I believe I can quit living the life I do live now, and finally quit the crazy race with time and bills.
  6. I had such periods every day in the Italian restaurant. You know how it goes in these places–one minute there is nobody, you go for a cigarette break or toilet. Return back ten minutes later, and the place is brimming with people, and everyone wants their delicious pizza in fifteen minutes or even less. It was stressful, but I was skilled and organized enough to deliver, to prepare the pizzas in time, while maintaining the highest standards of quality. Which meant that customers came back, and I was even more busy… Now I want to try something different in life, but I believe the experience prepared me well for stressful situations, situations when I will lack time or resources to do my job properly.
  7. I had this experience in one my jobs. But the resources I lacked were not external. They were internal. I was assigned to a coding project that I was not qualified for. Didn’t know the programming language, haven’t done anything similar before. Yet the company lacked engineers, it was an important project, and hence they assigned me to it. I quickly realized the only way out was through. Hence I spent two weeks learning the new coding language, watching countless tutorials, practicing for hours each day. Eventually I achieved the unimaginable–learning a programming language in few weeks only. And I believe I contributed great to the success of this project. Even today I enjoy to reminiscence about the time. I could have easily given up, quit, or whatever. But I did not. I went above and beyond for my employer, and in a short time gained resources I was missing.


Your attitude matters the most for the interviewers

As you can see on my list of sample answers, you can talk about a variety of situations in your interview–situations from work, from school, or even from your daily life. In fact it doesn’t matter much, as long as you show the right attitude. The key is to demonstrate that you neither panic not give up, when facing lack of time or resources. On the contrary, you stay calm, and use all your skills and experience to get things done.

In some cases it may not be enough. At the end of the day we are just human beings, and we never have things fully under our control. Your effort matters, not the eventual result. You did what you could, pushed hard, went above and beyond for your employer, or for your dream. That’s what matters for the hiring managers, and as long as you demonstrate it with your answer, they will be happy with it…

Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Do not forget to check also sample answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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